What His Work Tastes Like

You are the people of God, and this means that you have been saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. The Scriptures teach us to believe that we have been saved definitively, and yet not to rest in some carnal fashion upon our laurels. We are also warned against that constant temptation to self-righteousness that wants to keep salvation always in the future so that we might devise a way of earning it.

No, we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved, entirely and completely by the grace of God. But the Bible teaches us what this grace looks like in operation throughout the process. Paul tells Timothy, preaching to baptized covenant members, to conduct his ministry in a certain way. If you do this, he says, you will save both yourself and your hearers. Paul also says that he endures all things for the sake of the elect. Why? So that they might obtain salvation.

We are a saved people, saved already. Why are we here? We are seeking salvation. What warrant to we have to seek this salvation when we already have it? We are the covenant people of God and we have great and precious promises, and we are called to persevere in believing them. So how do we strive for our final salvation? We strive, not through our own labor, but rather by hearing and believing the Word of God.

What does a community of saints look like as they seek this salvation? They are characterized by the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which is always accomplished according to His most holy will. He works gracious sap in us, and it produces a harvest for everyone around. What is this harvest? The harvest is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We do not and cannot earn our salvation. But those who are being saved around us must know what His work in us tastes like.

Just Because a Group is in Formation Doesn”t Mean They Know Where They are Going

“Contemporary authors, playwrights and poets thus find themselves in a disconcerting dilemma. If they attempt to delineate an ideal, they are accused snobbery, of being anti-proletarian, illiberal, undemocratic and, in certain instances, racist. Accordingly, all but a dwindling minority have chosen to join the ‘Raskolnikovian’ ranks of iconoclasts, consoling themselves with the thought that they are allied to ‘progress’ and apparently forgetting that the Gadarene swine were also ‘progressing’ as they rushed headlong to destruction” (Duncan Williams, Trousered Apes, p. 95).

When Education is too Narrow

“But the danger is that their education can become little more than reading. When they come to take their SATs, they discover that their verbal scores are stratospheric, and their math scores give the impression that the test was taken by a rock that was having trouble holding the pencil” (The Case for Classical Christian Education, p. 198).

With No Release Mechanism But War

“Not only can we no longer believe, with the Aztecs, that our victims are gods, but the belief that our victims are incarnate devils is one we can sustain only for as long as the social contagions that so designate them last. ‘As early as the next morning’ we begin the process of coming to our senses. We have no sacrificial mechanisms that can convert all our mimetic passion into social unanimity, psychological stability, and a renewed sense of moral rectitude. We can no longer save ourselves from our own mimetic passions — adulation, envy, resentment, rivalry — by joining in occasional acts of unanimous violence, but we have leardly begun to calculate the implications of this. We live in a world inundated by these mimetic passions. What we call ‘modernity’ is a world of feverishly mimetic desires and fascination” (Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, p. 108).

Do Not Be Quiet, Lord and God

Minister: Lift up your hearts!

Congregation: We lift them up to the Lord!

Unto You I cry, O Lord my Rock;

     Do not be quiet.

If You are quiet when I pray,

     Then I will float like those who drift

     Down to the pit,

     A floating leaf.

 

So hear my prayers,

     When I offer prayers,

When I lift my hands

     Toward Your seer.

 

And do not let me be dragged away,

     Drawn with the wicked,

     With the workers of sin,

Who speak peace to their neighbors,

     With hearts full of mischief.

 

God, give them back the fruit of their deeds,

     According to their wickedness.

Return to them the work of their hands,

     Full measure, running over.

Render back their wages.

 

They don’t regard Your works, O God,

     Or what Your hands have done.

Destroy them then, and do not build.

 

Blessed be the Lord,

     The one who hears,

     The one who hears these prayers of mine.

 

The Lord is my strength;

     The Lord is my shield.

My heart trusts, and I am helped.

This is why my heart is glad,

     And why my songs will praise His name.

 

The Lord’s anointed have His strength;

     He is their saving strength and power.

 

Save all Your people, Lord and God,

     Bless Your inheritance, for they are Yours.

Feed them with bread, bread from Your hand,

     And lift them up forever.

Psalm 28

And so, gracious Father, we worship You now through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end, amen.

An Artillery Exhortation

In the colonial era, it was the practice of ministers to preach what were called “artillery sermons” just before elections. The sermon today is an artillery sermon, taken in a broad sense, but I wanted to be a bit more specific here, with this artillery exhortation. In the civil realm, you will be casting ballots this week, and so here are a few words of exhortation in this regard.

First, avoid the extremes of idolatry and apathy. You have a responsibility to vote, and you have a responsibility not to make an idol out of the democratic process. Vox populi, vox Dei is idolatry. More often than not vox populi, vox humbug, as the fellow said.

Second, this is a service you are rendering to God, not to your humanistic and secular keepers and handlers. Therefore, as best as you can ascertain, vote for candidates who fear the triune God and hate covetousness. This would have to include covetousness undertaken on behalf of the government.

Third, pray for wisdom for those who come out of the election representing us. Pray that they would be receptive to God’s leading, and that they would continue to be open, or would become open, to godly counsel. But pray also that if they stiffen their necks against such wisdom that God in His justice would strike them down. More than a few of our rulers need to be thinking about hellfire more than they are.

Fourth, reject all phony dualisms as candidates vie for your vote. Refuse to listen to anyone who tells you that their personal values are one thing and their public values are another. Character matters, religion matters, ethics matter.

Fifth, regardless of what happens in the election, remember that the king’s heart is in God’s hand; He turns it whichever way He pleases. Our nation, and its processes of decision-making, are not exempted from this sovereignty. So, do your duty as a Christian, and then rest in God’s purposes for us.

What Good Will This Do?

Christ has been established at the right hand of God the Father, and He has been given dominion over all the nations of men. This has been established in principle, and the task of the Great Commission is not to go out and try to make this true, but rather to declare to all the nations that it already is true. As that declaration is made in faith, the reign of Christ (an established fact) is made increasingly visible to the eyes of men.

But Christ rules by His instruments, not by ours. He extends His scepter, and it is His kind of scepter, not our kind. His scepter is wielded over the nations of men by means of the Word, the gospel preached with authority, and the sacraments—baptism and this Supper here.

That’s it. Christ’s kingdom will fill the earth because His preachers declare something, pour water on people, break bread and distribute wine. No armies, no lobbyists, no missiles, no goose-stepping millions, no marketing campaigns, no politics, and no flattery at all.

But make no mistake. It is not as though the armies and the governments and the nations (and all the other things we do) are irrelevant in this. They are very much a part of this process. The fact that we do not conquer by these carnal means does not mean that we will not come to see them as objects to be conquered. The Lordship of Jesus Christ must be acknowledged everywhere.

So how do we bring this about? Should we organize? No, we should take and eat, take and drink. But the objections come. “What good will this do?” said the Israelite grumbler, marching with the others around Jericho, just before the walls fell.

God tells us what to do, and He promises us what He will then do. The gospel always does what it does, which is to run free, setting men free. It cannot be bound, and earthly rulers have no countermeasures for it. Believe me, they have spent a great deal of time trying to develop countermeasures. But there are none.

Four Men

The task of exegesis is to unpack from the text what is already there. The task is not eisegesis, to import what it would be pleasant for me to find were I to have my druthers. If I go on a trip without my wife, when I get to the motel room, one of my assigned tasks is to exegete the suitcase, and I only get to take out of it what was previously put into it. This seems simple enough.

But Scripture is an enormous suitcase, with more zippers, cubbies, hidden compartments, and whatnot, than the mind of mortal man can conceive. No one man is up to the task of unpacking the whole thing. Many are involved in taking things out of the text what God in His kindness gave. Now here is the problem. What are we to do with men who are gifted, for whatever reason, at taking out things that were really packed in there, and yet the men who do this have deficient views of suitcase manufacturing, and they have ideas about the practical authority of what is unpacked that are alarming in the extreme? What then?

I say all this as a lead-in to this observation. I am a conservative sola et tota Scriptura guy. And yet, a large part of what I have come to see as the true teaching of Scripture has been pointed out to me by men who do not have an adequate view of Scripture itself. Now what? Should I refuse to take out of the Bible something that God put in there, my grounds for doing this being the worrisome qualifications of the person who pointed it out to me? If someone has deficient views of the inspiration, infallibility and practical authority of the Scriptures, do we all ignore God if His truth gets pointed out by one such?

All this is a build-up to an expression of gratitude — gratitude for four men that I would vote against in a presbyterial ordination exam were they, by some mishap, to find themselves sitting for one. I would vote against them because their views of Scripture range from troubling to outrageous. And yet, I still owe an immeasurable debt to them. These things are hard to quantify, but it is at least clear to me that the shape of a great deal of what I see in Scripture has been radically affected by what these men have pointed out to me. And once they have pointed it out, there it is, right there. Right on the top of the suitcase, with a sunbeam shining on it. These men are, in order, C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, Robert Farrar Capon, and Rene Girard. I owe them all a great deal, as I said, even though all of them say appalling things, especially Capon. But there it is anyway.

Guilt by association is sometimes right, but frequently (in the hands of maladroit accusers) wrong. Guilt by quotation is even more difficult to get right. And this is especially the case when it is attempted by inquisitors who have memorized the Guide to Historico-Grammatical Suitcase Unpacking, but who substitute that for seeing what is actually in there. Ironically, they unpack the wrong suitcase. A troublesome business all around since I heartily agree with the GHGSU, and use it in presbytery exams. Oh well.